Inexpensive technology solutions can play an integral role in determining the success and sometimes failure of new small and mid-sized businesses -- especially in this economy.
Newton's law of universal gravitation found that, in short, what goes up must come down. Many of us experience this on a daily basis, not only as it applies to gravity, but in our personal bank accounts, retirement savings, and very often, new businesses.
In 2006, entrepreneurs were on the rise. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, nearly 650,000 new businesses opened their doors. But just as quickly as those doors opened, more than 564,000 closed.
Businesses fail for a variety of reasons; perhaps the timing isn't right for the endeavor; maybe the marketing mix misses its target. But more often than not, information technology (IT) plays an integral role in determining the success, and sometimes failure, of a new business. Putting the right IT solutions in place can help jump start the business, advance growth opportunities, and even help get critical systems under control.
A recent survey conducted by All Covered among small businesses revealed that some companies are investing as little as two percent of their top-line revenue on IT. Unlike their Fortune 500 counterparts, many small businesses lack the revenue to support a large IT infrastructure or believe that the costs of implementing various IT solutions outweigh the benefits. So, as a small business owner, how can you enhance IT capabilities without breaking the bank?
In this article, we'll take a look at four emerging technologies that can provide full enterprise functionality with small business pricing and convenience.
Turning to hot spots
A recent Wells Fargo/Gallup survey reported that two thirds of small business owners are using the Internet for business purposes like online banking, social networking, advertising/marketing, and payroll management. Small business owners rely heavily upon the Internet, so much so that 35 percent reported that a loss of service would have a major impact on business, and 18 percent reported that without Internet service, their business would close.
An increasing number of small businesses are turning to Wi-Fi networks, a wireless technology that enables users to access the Internet through a network of radio waves similar to those transmitted by cell phones and televisions. All that's needed is a computer with a built-in wireless receiver (available at a low cost for computers that are not factory-equipped) and a wireless router to transmit the signals. From there, connecting multiple computers and moving them from place to place without disconnecting and reconnecting wires is simple.
Wireless technology is very convenient for small business employees who often wear many hats that require them to work outside of the traditional office. Equipped with the right hardware, they can easily connect to Wi-Fi networks within airports, hotels, or the corner coffee shop. But not only is Wi-Fi a convenient solution, it is also a low-cost alternative to larger networking options that often demand enormous fees for hardware and user licenses. Be sure you enable and understand important security options during the implementation.
One call away
The days of landlines and telephone poles with extending wires are ending. The next generation of phones has arrived, and now they run on the same connection as your personal computer. While universal naming conventions have not yet been established -- we'll refer to the service here as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), but you'll see 'Internet telephony' or 'Internet voice' used interchangeably -- the end result is a steeply discounted communication vehicle with little or no loss of call quality when compared to traditional land lines.
With a high-speed Internet connection, a two-way headset and a keyboard to enter text and phone numbers, small businesses can make calls to and from any computer in the world and avoid the high costs of traditional phone service. VoIP features 3-way calling, call forwarding, automatic redial, and caller ID at no additional cost, and its ability to transmit more than one telephone call down the same telephone line is convenient for businesses that often need multiple lines. If your business and clients share the same software, calls are normally free, even across continents.
No more upgrades
It seems as though software companies are releasing new product versions every week, and small businesses are finding it increasingly overwhelming and expensive to keep up. But now, small businesses can find software packages that are entirely browser-based.
Similar to traditional software tools, Web-based suites offer a word processor, spreadsheet, branded e-mail, calendar, and other tools. But this software doesn't require users to purchase, install or maintain hardware and software. Worried about backup? Don't be. All files live on servers at the host end -- not on your hard drive, although many services offer you the ability to store and edit local copies of files.
Some providers offer this type of service at no cost with storage options similar to regular email user accounts. However, businesses can upgrade for larger e-mail storage options, so as the business grows, so does the software.
Billions of e-mails
The e-mail landscape is continuously changing, and the threat of phishing attacks, viruses and data leaks is high. Enterprise gateway security company, Secure Computing, recently reported the number of spam messages doubling year-over-year from 60 billion messages in 2006 to nearly 120 billion messages in November 2007, with increases projected for 2008 and beyond.
Not only does spam waste valuable employee time that could be spent on critical business initiatives, the influx of messages can also take up valuable server space or carry viruses or Trojans that can cause server damage to company systems. But spam, and the potential threats it may carry, doesn't have to drain time or money.
Numerous e-mail security vendors offer 'hosted' solutions, which allow businesses to utilize hardware or software solutions that can filter through spam and malware in addition to virus detection and data leakage prevention. The software is located and maintained within the vendor's data center, which enables businesses to avoid an up-front cash investment and the time spent performing technology maintenance. Small businesses are also able to stay ahead of new technology trends and products without carrying a huge cost burden.
It's often said that the best things in life are free, but very often the best things for your business are not. From phone service to Internet connectivity and e-mail safeguards, business owners are spending millions to simply push the business to new levels. However, with quality technology solutions, like Wi-Fi, VoIP or hosted e-mail, small businesses no longer have to break the bank to access business-critical technology. Instead, small businesses can advance company growth through key IT solutions that save both time and money.
Lisa Metcalfe is a Regional Practice Leader in the Technology Leadership Practice of Tatum LLC. Tatum is the nation's largest executive services firm, providing financial and technology leadership nationwide.